What is music therapy?

What is music therapy?

Guest Blogger: Laura Teutsch, MMT, RP(Q), MTA

What is Music Therapy? How can it help my child or teen?

According to the Canadian Association of Music Therapist’s, music therapy is “a discipline in which Certified Music Therapists (MTAs) use music purposefully within therapeutic relationships to support development, health, and well-being. Music therapists use music safely and ethically to address human needs within cognitive, communicative, emotional, musical, physical, social, and spiritual domains.”

Well that’s wordy… Let’s break that down together. The basic belief of music therapy is that music, used within a therapeutic relationship, can assist an individual in bringing about a wide variety of goals.

“How does this happen?” To find out, let’s go through the four categories of activities of a music therapy session.

Listening to music is an activity that most people engage in on a regular basis. Most people have a favourite genre, a favourite band, a favourite song. Many people have songs that have powerful memories associated with them, either positive or negative.
Many musicians sing about real life struggles and this can be a reason that we are drawn to particular songs. If the lyrics resonate with our own situations, we may find that listening to that song allows us to feel understood or even to understand ourselves better.
Listening to music can also help us manage our moods. Sometimes we want to feel something different from how we feel right now, so we listening to song that matches our desired mood. A perfect example is an athlete who listens to “pump-up” music before a big race to boost their mood and get their heart rate going.

Composing may sound scary, but there is a significant range of activities that would fall under this category. It can be anything from changing individual words in a familiar song to writing a song from scratch. It is always done with as much or as little support from the therapist as is needed to ensure that the client feels comfortable and secure.
Composing lyrics or music can provide a meaningful way to express feelings and experiences. It can also provide a significant sense of accomplishment, with the possibility of taking home a finished product.

Improvising means to make something up on the spot. In music therapy there is always a wide range of instruments available for the client’s use. Improvisation can be used to achieve many different potential goals, including (but definitely not limited to) communication goals, emotional goals, social goals.
To work on communication goals, one might use question-and-answer style music making or make up silly languages to sing to encourage the use of speech sounds.
Emotional goals can be achieved through the cathartic release of emotions or by using musical role play. Improvisation can also bring great insight into our own sometimes un-nameable emotions. We may not quite be aware that what we’re feeling is a complicated mix of, for example, sadness and anger, until we let out music that sounds the way we feel.
Improvisation can also be a very efficient way to achieve social goals. When improvising with another person, one listens closely to what the other is playing, leading and following, sharing and bonding. This can be facilitated through imitation games, call and response, turn taking, soloing, or simply free, entirely unstructured improvisation.

Have you ever heard your favourite song come on the radio or play from your current playlist and just cranked the volume up nice and loud so you can sing along? Re-creating basically means singing or playing familiar songs. In music therapy it can be done simply by singing along while listening, or it can mean learning the song to sing ourselves and maybe even record to take home. This can have such an impact on one’s self-esteem. Whether singing along and feeling the lyrics connect with and express our own situations, feeling the vibrations within our body as we sing, or recording our very own version of the song to listen back to later and feel a sense of accomplishment and pride.
For youngsters, familiar songs are also big motivators to engage in particular activities that will help them achieve their goals. Directions, instructions, or requests can be worked into the tune of their favourite song in order to capture their attention and build a strong connection with the therapist.

This brief introduction to each of the four categories is intended to provide an overview of the role that music can play in music therapy sessions. The activities that occur during a session are tailored directly to the needs and musical preferences of the client.